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U.'s Pharmacy Institute aims to push college back to the top

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 12 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Artist's rendering of the L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Institute research center.

Rendering provided by University

Enlarge photo»

L.S. Skaggs grew up sweeping floors at Pay Less Drug on Main Street, but he had bigger dreams of being behind the pharmacy counter.

"There's no telling where life may have taken him," his daughter Claudia Skaggs Luttrell said Tuesday. Her grandfather's untimely 1950 stroke death prompted an early career change that put her father, then 26, in charge of nine drug stores at the height of a pharmacist shortage.

Skaggs didn't make it to college, but he never lost his passion for pharmaceutical research to help people fight disease and illness worldwide. Over the years, he has given millions of dollars to fund the biomedical research.

On Tuesday, the University of Utah honored Skaggs by breaking ground for a new building — a 150,000-square-foot research center — that will be called the L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Institute. The new building will allow the College of Pharmacy, which now uses six separate buildings across campus, to meet under one roof. The $69 million project will be the "launching point for new disease treatments," said A. Lorris Betz, senior vice president for the U.'s health sciences.

"Hundreds of thousands of people are helped by what goes on in this building," University of Utah President Michael K. Young said, adding that professors at the school have screened more than 30,000 compounds for the treatment of epilepsy, resulting in 11 new medications on the market today. "They make lives better and help people everywhere to overcome the ravages of disease."

Senior research student Jonathan Ellis said he's happy to have updated facilities to work with. He said the old building "has problems," including power outages nearly every month, "which can't be good for research projects."

Skaggs and his family's ALSAM foundation gave $30 million for the project, which is expected to be completed by December 2011, as part of his continuing mission to benefit millions with education and even more with state-of-the-art health care. It is a small portion of the tens of millions of dollars the family has given to various causes of the years, including Catholic enterprises such as Draper's Juan Diego Catholic High School and other education and biomedical research, as well as the Moran Eye Center.

For a man whose beginning in philanthropy came with the rise of one-stop shopping and his idea to merge drugstores with grocery stores nationwide, Skaggs has helped thousands attain degrees and make a name for themselves, accomplishing their own dreams of becoming pharmacists. Skaggs' leadership of the American Stores empire took them to the top of the food-and-drug business, becoming No. 2 in the nation and pulling in more than $20 billion a year.

Pharmacists, according to David L. Maher, former vice chairman and chief operating officer of American Stores Co., were the "heart of the business." Behind the scenes, Skaggs was pumping millions of dollars into pharmacy programs and scholarships across the country, including at the University of Utah. Maher said Skaggs genuinely believed that access to education could increase a person's chance for success.

In a landmark shift that took the University of Utah's College of Pharmacy to No. 1 in the nation in 1965 for National Institutes of Health funding, Skaggs was highly instrumental in moving the school from the lackluster women's gymnasium to a new building among those in a health sciences complex on campus. The building bears his father's name and is known to students as Skaggs Hall.

"The current and new building in this new Skaggs Pharmacy Institute will stand together, like father and son, honoring these two great Utah businessmen on a campus and in a city they both loved and called home," Luttrell said.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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